Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography {Book Review}}

By Peter Schaller

I have to confess, before reading David Ulrich’s book, Zen Camera, my own camera was not getting much action.

However, even before I finished the book, I was inspired to get out my camera, refine my concentration and start shooting again. By any definition, a book that can inspire us to positive and immediate action is a tremendous success. David Ulrich does an amazing job of fusing the basic concepts of Buddhist presence and concentration with the quiet art of photography. It’s not surprising, because the two have much in common—silence, stillness, reflection, presence—and this book weaves those common threads adeptly.

One of the things that most struck me while reading the book is that Ulrich has managed to create a fine arts book that is accessible to all.

From the outset, it is clear that the lessons and exercises could easily be adopted by professional photographers or anyone who has a cellular phone in hand and wants to create impactful images. With technological advances in recent years, photography has inadvertently become one of the most popular forms of creative expression.

The author invites the reader deeper into the book by removing the intimidating barricades that often surround are mediums. “You do not need to have a knowledge of photography to begin,” he writes, “and you will find real results in discovering your own authentic way of seeing in a fairly short time.”

One of the strongest elements of the book is, without a doubt, its order and organization.

Both creative activities and spiritual practice require order and discipline. Art and enlightenment do not happen by accident, but are products of arduous work. Early in the book, Ulrich presents a simple formula for photography that is reinforced throughout: the frame, the light, the moment, use of color and tonality, treatment of a subject.

The book is organized into six lessons (Observation, Awareness, Identity, Practice, Mastery, Presence) which could easily refer to a practice of photography or Zen Buddhism. I found the logical sequence and practical exercises at the end of each chapter to be both grounding and motivational.

“Process is practice. It begins the road towards skill, excellence and mastery.”

Throughout the book, Ulrich reminds us that we all have the capacity to create art, mindfully and responsibly. Art is not some unattainable prize, available only to those mythical souls that have MFAs or some divinely inspired talent. Rather, it is the potential within each of us, ready to be released when we are relaxed, concentrated and present. Ulrich reminds us that “creativity flourishes in mindfulness.” Beginner’s mind cannot happen all by itself. The tool for an open mind is attention. By paying attention to the present moment, and yourself in it, you begin to soften and expand your awareness.

Just as meditation or other spiritual practices must be habitual in order to be mastered, so is creative expression through photography.

Zen Camera challenges us to see the extraordinary in every moment, in every place and in every object. This is only possible if we incorporate the practice of creativity into our daily routines. This will not only help us to grow as artists, but also to develop a more profound consciousness as we wade through life’s complex waters. Seeing the world through the lens of a camera promotes greater presence and concentration.

“Through photography,” Ulrich teaches, “we cannot help but become more attentive to and conscious of both the dynamics of self and the realities of life. Photography demands that we look inward and outward simultaneously.”

We are living in a new world, where visual stimulation is constant and can be quite invasive.

The explosion of social media and the convenience of digital photography in our cell phones, it is now possible for anyone to take a publish photos, anytime, anywhere. However, that does not mean that the world has to be bombarded with silly grinning selfies and alluring plates of food. Technology can also be used for meditative appreciation of the world that surrounds us. Zen Camera is a door that opens to a life of creative observation.

All we have to do is step through.

Whether or not you have ever considered photography as a form of creative expression, this book will help you to see more, to be more present and to make art out of any seemingly ordinary moment. As for me, I have my camera back out and I’m using David Ulrich’s practical exercises on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, I am seeing more clearly and creating incessantly.

 

 

Photo: (c) 2018 by David Ulrich

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

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Peter Schaller

Peter Schaller is a community development specialist who lives and works in Nicaragua. Originally from Connecticut, he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Community Organization from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Master’s in Public Administration from Walden University. He has been managing social service and development organizations for more than 25 years. His free time is dedicated to writing, photography, vegan cooking, gardening and woodworking. He is also the proud father of three children and one grandson.
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